Jamie Hanna has spent the past five years locating and documenting hundreds of artworks her father, David Hanna, created during her childhood in Bristol and earlier years in Pennsylvania. While following international clues to bring his work to the public, hoping to organize his first exhibition since 1981, she has connected to her father, his relationships, and her own early life on the peninsula.
David Hanna painted realist landscapes and portraits in watercolor and egg tempera using a drybrush technique. Self-taught, he studied artists of the Brandywine School, an American realist artistic tradition that included the Wyeth family.
Jamie Hanna, who attended Lincoln Academy, has spent her adult life across the country and now splits her time between Annapolis, Md. and Pemaquid.
She describes her father’s style as precise and unpretentious, holding a place in American art history.
“There was no preciousness to his process,” she said. “He had to do this.”
He painted to support his wife and seven children, often selling on commission, and when he died at age 39 most of his work was in private hands.
About five years ago, his daughter had an “ah-ha” moment and began to see his art in a different way. She spent a year thinking about the project before launching the David Hanna Trust with the understanding that it would be a marathon, rather than a sprint – a marathon she said could be never-ending.
“I really love the challenge of the breadcrumbs, and the investigation, and connecting the dots,” she said. “I really started spending time at Pemaquid and rethinking our time here, why did we move here, what inspired him to be here.”
Her father grew up in Pittsburgh, Pa. as the youngest of 12 children. He left school as a young teenager and worked at a dance studio and as an actor. After marrying, he spent three years in the U.S. Army Special Services in the airborne division and became an insurance salesman when he returned home.
David Hanna began to paint to decorate his growing family’s Pittsburgh apartment. The building manager noticed and invited him to join an exhibition, which kick-started Hanna’s career.
Within a year, he was making a living from his art, and the family moved to the Pemaquid Point Lighthouse’s keeper apartment the next year, in 1967.
Jamie Hanna’s first memories are at the lighthouse, where the family lived until building a home together in Round Pond in 1971.
“(David Hanna) was always very resourceful, very ambitious, very curious, and could figure things out,” she said.
David Hanna father died of a heart attack 10 years later, when she was 16, while visiting a curator at the Westmoreland County Museum of Art in Greensburg, Pa. to prepare for an exhibit. The memorial exhibit there that followed was the last one held of his art.
“It sort of arrested a time in my life, and so I’m coming back to that now,” Jamie Hanna said.
Upon his death, the family mostly had his early sketches, ephemera, and a handful of works created just for family members. His paintings are rarely seen at auction, according to his daughter. When she set out to find them, she started with people she knew had purchased works, who connected her with others. Some she has even found in the White Pages.
“I’ve had a lot of angels,” she said. “I’ve never thought, ‘What’s the next step?’”
Though some paintings are now in the second or third generation of ownership, many collectors knew David Hanna well. One, blind since birth, remembered him describing his paintings to her and explaining what the color blue looks like.
“The whole project has this energy about it, as if we’re picking up from 1981 and everyone just remembers,” Jamie Hanna said.
Almost everyone she’s contacted to ask about cataloging work has agreed, inviting her into their homes to photograph, record details, and note exhibition history for a catalog raisonne, or a complete annotated list of an artist’s works. The catalog is currently private, but some parts of it, minus collector information, would be published with an exhibition.
“The connections and relationships I’ve built have just been such a blessing, and an unexpected gift,” she said. “This just really expanded my life so much.”
Jamie Hanna has located all the “low-hanging fruit,” and is now chasing down pieces that might be harder to find. She was helped early on by an introduction to fine art photographer John White, who makes reproduction-quality photographs of artwork for museums, along with an archivist who taught her how to document each piece.
When she locates enough collectors in one place, the team travels to document pieces, spanning all the lower 48 states and even Scotland. David Hanna had a fan base in the mid-Atlantic, where he got his start, though Jamie Hanna has Maine leads in Boothbay, Augusta, Wiscasset, and Down East.
David Hanna appreciated old houses and antiques, sometimes taking his children to visit dealers as far away as Lincolnville. Jamie Hanna suspects he may have traded artwork for antiques, another possible trail to follow.
Over 400 known works have been recorded so far and over half of them catalogued, more than she knew her father had made.
“It’s just been getting to know him, which has been such a blessing” she said of experiencing the paintings and spending hours with each one.
Jamie Hanna has also begun work with curator Barbara Jones, retired chief curator of the Westmoreland Museum of American Art, to prepare a checklist of works available for an exhibition. Collectors have overwhelmingly agreed to loan pieces, she said.
Depending on museum schedules, Hanna hopes to see an exhibition open in the next two to four years. A traveling show could start in Pennsylvania, where her father’s career began, then travel up the east coast and conclude in the mid-Atlantic states.
After an exhibition, museums could acquire some paintings, or a library or organization agree to hold the archives.
“It can’t live and die with me,” Jamie Hanna said.
She has also reconnected with local friends in the process, and several of her father’s works have found homes with them. This month, she donated original lithographs to Pemaquid Point Lighthouse Park, Round Pond Coffee, and Salt + Pepper Social. The local businesses are both owned by her longtime friends.
“I did want to them to be somewhere that if someone said ‘Oh, who is that?’ that they would have a story to tell,” Jamie Hanna said.
Spending time with the artwork has only deepened her appreciation, she said, and they never lose their appeal.
“I know so much about each one of these works, and about him, and about his process … to me, these are almost like people. There’s so much power and energy and my own personal sense of roots in all these works,” she said.
Jamie Hanna remembers her father going everywhere with a roll of vellum, looking around for scenes to paint. After spending years close up with his paintings, she sees things in a new way.
“I tend to look at things the way he would have,” she said, describing how she now appreciates a broken tree branch in winter or frames a scene in her mind. “I don’t look at anything the same way anymore … it’s expansive and additive, in terms of how I look at the world.”